Mirliton Casserole, a Mexican-Creole fusion

School’s out for summer and we’ve moved. Now that I have more time to cook, I thought I’d try to make mirliton casserole again. I realized as I was gathering my ingredients that I didn’t have any mushrooms, but I did have a can of pickled carrots (zanahorias en escabeche) from our local Latino grocer. I love these. If you’ve never had them, they are carrots pickled with jalapeños and onions. The vinegar adds a nice edge to the dish I didn’t know it needed.

Latino Mirliton Casserole

3 medium mirlitons, boiled, peeled, and diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
3 toes garlic, minced
1 lb. chicken thighs, deboned and diced
1 lb. smoked sausage, sliced on bias
1-14 oz. can diced tomato or Ro-tel (canned tomato and jalapeño)
1 small can pickled carrots (zanahorias en escabeche)
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste
2-2 1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs

optional:
1 can chicken broth
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Halve the mirlitons and boil them in lightly salted water until you can pierce them all the way through without using excessive pressure. Then remove them from the pot and set them aside to cool.

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat and sauté the chicken until browned. Add sausage and brown. Add onion and bell pepper, sauté until wilted. Add garlic and sauté until everything is soft and tender. Add carrots, tomato, and spices. Scoop the cooked mirliton meat into a bowl and mash or dice well.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Add to the the mirliton meat to the mixture and cook until the sauce forms a paste-like consistency (15 minutes).

Begin working in bread crumbs into the casserole mixture (this is best done a little at a time). When all the crumbs are added, you should end up with a somewhat dry paste that sticks to the spoon. If it is still too moist, add a few extra bread crumbs, if the mixture it too wet it will run during the baking process. If your stuffing mix turns out too dry, moisten it with a little canned chicken broth.

Transfer the mixture to a large casserole dish. Put the dish into the oven on the center rack, and bake it uncovered for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the topping turns a toasty brown. For a little extra, liberally sprinkle the casserole with shredded Parmesan cheese when it has 10 minutes left to bake in the oven. This will form a nice crusty topping on the dish.

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Carnival Shrimp

In honor of carnival season and crab season, this is a stuffed shrimp recipe—New Orleans style. This dish has all the hallmarks of good creole cooking… butter, wine, and seafood! Unfortunately for me, I had to use prawns in this recipe because jumbo gulf shrimp are unheard of out here. Prawns have a much blander taste than gulf shrimp do (it’s due to their diet), so I compensated by seasoning each shrimp. I didn’t include this step in the recipe because some folks are lucky enough to have access to real shrimp. If you use prawns, sprinkle each raw prawn with Old Bay before topping.

Carnival Shrimp

Carnival Shrimp

1 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
1 cup water
1 medium bell pepper, diced
1 lb. lump crab meat
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 Tablespoon Creole seasoning
1/4 cup dry white wine (optional)
2 lbs. large shrimp (or prawns)
Italian bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350º. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add diced onion and cook until the onion glistens. Add flour and make a quick roux. Add water and thin out the roux. Add bell pepper, salt, Creole seasoning and stir until everything is incorporated. Add wine. Cook mixture for 2 minutes (5 minutes if wine was added) until bell pepper is soft. Fold in crab meat and try to keep pieces as whole as possible. Set mixture aside while you clean and peel shrimp. Butterfly the cleaned and peeled shrimp and lay each shrimp on a greased baking sheet. Take a tablespoon and top each butterflied shrimp with a tablespoonful of the crab meat mixture. Sprinkle enough bread crumbs over each shrimp to just cover. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Serves 6.

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Daube

Daube is a larded pot roast slowly braised in wine. The word has the same root as the spanish adobo, which is braising meats in wine or acid. The acids in the simmering liquid help to break down all the sinews and tendons in the meat, which release collagen and make a rich sauce. The larding step helps make the final gravy much richer and it adds flavor to the roast. Rather than dicing the garlic, my grandmother would add entire cloves into the larding slits. She probably went through an entire head of garlic doing this. You can do it that way, but crushing the garlic releases more of the garlic flavor, in my opinion. We used to have this most Sunday afternoons when I was a kid… yum!

Daube

1/4 lb. salt pork fat
1 shoulder roast (~5 lbs.)
1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 toes of garlic, diced
4 whole bay leaves, ground
1/2 tsp. clove
1/2 tsp. thyme
4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. black pepper
1-2 tablespoons of flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 carrots, peeled, and cut into 1/2 chunks
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 cup dry red wine
1-2 quarts boiling water (depends on size of pot, see below)
2 tablespoons dark roux

First, slice the salt pork into 1/4 inch thick strips. Make incisions about 3 inches long and 1 1/2 inches deep every couple of inches across the surface of the roast. Insert the slices of salt pork into each slit. This is called larding. Finely dice 1 quarter of the onion (about 1 cup) and the garlic. Combine this with the ground bay leaves, clove, thyme, 1/4 tsp. of the salt and 1/4 tsp. of the black pepper. Mix this thoroughly. Insert some of this mash into each slit, pressing it into the salt pork. Dust the outside surface of your roast with flour. Next, in a heavy 8-quart pot heat the olive oil. Brown the roast well on all sides. By following this all important step, you are both searing the meat, and you are starting your gravy for later. Add carrots, onion, parsley and remaining seasonings and cook until everything is well browned. Add red wine and just enough boiling water to cover the roast. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat for 3-4 hours or until beef is fork tender.

When roast is done, lift it out of the pot with a long fork and allow the juices to drain back into the pot. Set meat aside and allow it to rest for 15 minutes. Remove your vegetables and set aside. Strain the gravy into a large sauce pan and add roux to the saucepan to make a gravy for your roast. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to a strong simmer and allow some of the excess liquid to boil off. Stir constantly. After about 10 minutes of this, you should have a velvety, rich gravy. Slice meat into 1/4 thick slices, serve with vegetables, add some gravy and enjoy.

You may add diced tomatoes to the pot before simmering to increase the dish’s acid content. I added quartered yukon gold potatoes to the pot about 2 hours into cooking (they’ll be over cooked if you add them any sooner).

If you can get real French bread (vietnamese bakeries often have it if you don’t live in New Orleans) you will want to use the leftovers for po’ boys—especially the gravy. Some folks serve daube with spaghetti noodles—either by topping the noodles with the meat and then gravy or by using red gravy in lieu of the daube’s gravy.

Roast Beef Po' Boy
Po’ Boy made from leftover daube.

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Crab Boil Mashed Potatoes

With Thanksgiving coming up soon, I thought it was time to start posting à propos recipes. The following is inspired by the potatoes served before your meal at Deanie’s in Metairie. For folks not “in the know”—when it comes time to throw a seafood boil, it is customary to add corn and potatoes to the water along with the seafood and seafood boil mix to serve alongside the crabs, shrimp and crawfish. At Deanie’s, they serve these delicious potatoes as a substitute for bread before your meal arrives. By using the following method to boil your potatoes for mashing, you will give just enough zing to your mashed potatoes for some real soul.

Just my humble opinion, but Yukon Gold potatoes are the best for mashing, but some people prefer red skinned. Use appropriate mashing potatoes.

Crab Boil Mashed Potatoes

For the water:
1 package (3 oz.) Dry Crab Boil
4 quarts of water
4 tablespoons salt
1 quartered lemon
cayenne pepper to taste

3 lbs yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 teaspoon salt
8 Tbsp heavy cream
4 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp milk
Salt and Pepper

A potato ricer, food mill or masher

Put potatoes into a large pot of crab boil water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, 15-20 minutes, or until done – a fork can easily be poked through them.

Warm cream and melt butter, together, either in microwave or in a pan on the stove. Drain water from potatoes. Use ricer, mill or masher to mash potatoes into a separate bowl. Add cream and melted butter mixture. Use a strong spoon to beat further, adding milk to achieve the consistency you desire. (Do not over-beat or your potatoes will get gluey.) Salt and pepper to taste. You may add creole seasoning to taste at the end if you desire.

Serves 8.

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Russian Cake (Creole Trifle)

For whatever reason, this recipe is nowhere to found in most Louisiana Creole/New Orleans cookbooks (never mind the Internet). Legend has it that the cake dates back to 1872, when the Grand Duke Alexis of Russian visited New Orleans for Mardi Gras (the song “If I Ever Cease to Love” was written for the very same occasion). The trifle is made with leftover pieces of cake, pie crust, muffins, and cookies which are moistened with a binder (in this case seedless raspberry jam, anise flavoring and rum). I have heard that the original Russian cake used vodka and not rum, but I am not able to verify that.

If you’ve never had one of these, it’s quite an experience for the senses. My grandparents used to get one of these every year for their birthdays (they were 2 days apart) from Mr. Lawrence’s Bakery (Mr. Wedding Cake) on Elysian Fields. My grandmother would come home with one of those pink bakery boxes and out would come this fragrant and colorful cake. It smells vaguely of licorice and something almost tropical. It’s also this very bright almost garish ruby red and the top is covered with white frosting and colorful sprinkles, you can imagine how appealing that is to a kid. I was only allowed a very small piece as a kid (I’m not sure if actual rum was used in Mr. Lawrence’s recipe, but my grandmother seemed to think so) and I loved every bite of it. This past March, I was reacquainted with Russian Cake when we were shopping at Dorignac’s in Metairie. G. and I split one piece before bed and apparently I tossed all night like a rotisserie chicken. I think it was worth it.

Russian Cake part deux

Russian Cake (Creole Trifle)

6-8 cups of diced cake pieces
1 box yellow or white cake mix (plus ingredients needed to bake this; will vary from brand to brand)
8 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam
1 to 1-1/2 cups white rum (will depend on amount of cake pieces)
1 teaspoon anise flavor (look for the real stuff)
red food coloring (just in case, my jam wasn’t red enough)
pre-made (or homemade) buttercream frosting
colored sprinkles (the spherical kind)

Mix rum, anise, jam and (optionally) the food color with a wire whisk until everything is well integrated; the alcohol in the rum helps dissolve the jam quickly so it shouldn’t be more than 30 seconds. Pour evenly over your cake pieces and place bowl in fridge for a few hours or overnight (covered). The more cake pieces you use for the inside, the denser and heavier the cake will be. The Russian cakes I remember weighed several pounds and seemed very heavy for their size. When ready to assemble cake, bake your boxed cake according to instructions in a 9-inch cake pan. When cool split the cake evenly down the middle. Place one half in a 9-inch springform pan (one used for cheesecakes) and “fill” with your soaked cake pieces. Try to get this even as possible. Place top layer over “filling” and cover with saranwrap, the plastic touching the top of the cake. I placed my cleaned cake pan over the top of this and weighed it down with jars from the fridge. The reason I did this was to make sure that the cake was flat, number one, but also I wanted some of the “juice” from the middle to seep into the top and bottom layer, thereby binding the cake together. Place in fridge overnight (make sure it’s covered). The next day, frost the top and cover with sprinkles. Voilå!

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Top Secret

Pssst…

I am going to be experimenting this weekend with something very New Orleanian and I’ll give you a couple of hints as to what it is (You can also tell by the categories what it might be.)

A) It’s impossible to find a recipe for it.
B) It’s going to be a pain in the ass to recreate.
C) It has an ethnic name (both names do, in fact).

Hopefully by Sunday, I’ll have something to report.

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Mellytawn (Mirliton) Casserole

There are some dishes that are quintessentially New Orleanian, dishes that you won’t find an equivalent taste anywhere else, this is one such dish. I don’t know if it’s the ham/shrimp blend, the bread crumbs, the mirliton or the combination of all these elements put together, but this tastes like my grandmother’s kitchen to me… my comfort food.

Mirliton is the word for chayote squash in Louisiana, and they are coming into season here and they are large, cheap and plentiful. This is but one of many dishes you can make with this delicious squash.

This is what mirlitons look like:
Mirlitons (Chayote Squash)

Finished casserole:
Mirliton Casserole

Mellytawn (Mirliton) Casserole

6 medium mirlitons, boiled, peeled, and diced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
6 toes garlic, minced
2 lbs. shrimp, peeled and chopped
1 lb. ham, small diced
1-14 oz. can diced tomato (you can substitute 1 large fresh tomato if you have some)
1 cup mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/4 cup parsley, minced
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 cups seasoned bread crumbs
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 cup buttered corn flakes, crumbled

optional:
1 can chicken broth
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

First, take your mirlitons and boil them whole in lightly salted water until you can pierce them all the way through without using excessive pressure. Then remove them from the pot and set them aside to cool.
In a large saucepan, melt your butter over medium heat and sauté the trinity until slightly wilted. Add garlic and mushrooms and sauté until everything is soft and tender. Slice the cooked mirlitons in half lengthwise, remove the center seedpods, and throw them away. Then take a paring knife and carefully peel the outer skin away from the pulp. Once the skin is removed, dice the pulp into small pieces and set it aside as well.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Add the shrimp and the chopped ham to your sautéed vegetables and turn heat to medium-high. Within 2 to 4 minutes time, the shrimp will turn pink and the ham will brown slightly around the edges. Add to the mixture the mirliton pulp and the diced tomato. Then stir the pot constantly for 15-20 minutes, cooking the pulp and the vegetables together over medium-high heat until a chunky paste forms. Add the spices and herbs and be sure to fold them well into the mirliton, shrimp, and ham blend.

Begin working in bread crumbs into the casserole mixture (this is best done a little at a time). When all the crumbs are added, you should end up with a somewhat dry paste that sticks to the spoon. If it is still too moist, add a few extra bread crumbs, if the mixture it too wet it will run during the baking process. If your stuffing mix turns out too dry, moisten it with a little canned chicken broth. Then when you’re satisfied with the final consistency, quickly stir in the egg to bind everything together (be sure to temper it!).

Finally, transfer the mixture to a large casserole dish. Then liberally top the casserole with the buttered cornflake crumbs, put the dish into the oven on the center rack, and bake it uncovered for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the topping turns a toasty brown. For a little extra, liberally sprinkle the casserole with shredded Parmesan cheese when it has 10 minutes left to bake in the oven. This will form a nice crusty topping on the dish.

Variation: instead of ham, try 1 lb. cleaned crab meat.

This feeds a lot of people! I should have halved the recipe, we wound up with two casseroles. Before we ate I said “I hope you like it, we’re going to be eating it for awhile.”

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